Listen, Enrich, Optimise

India has the potential to lead the world, but what is pulling it down is the mindset of corruption and lack of ethics. A quality mindset can bring about change.
Subir Chowdhury        Print Edition: Jan 19, 2014

Subir Chowdhury
Subir Chowdhury
In India, irrespective of whether it is politics, business or the country in general, the 'quality mindset' is clearly missing. It is just not there in the Indian DNA. By quality mindset, I mean an appreciation of very basic values such as honesty and integrity. Without these attributes, one cannot achieve the highest quality in whatever one does. There are some signs of change, though. Indeed, what Arvind Kejriwal, my classmate at IIT Kharagpur and leader of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which has tasted phenomenal success in the recent elections, is seeking to do is instill these attributes at the societal level.

So, the first step to transforming India, to unlocking its tremendous potential, is creating quality awareness. This awareness should not be confined merely to leaders, whether political or business, but should permeate all levels. All of us as citizens, irrespective of our position, must have the quality mindset. Quality is everyone's business and one can learn it at any stage of one's life.

India has high quality talent. It has the potential to become the innovation hub of the world

It involves just three stages - Listen, Enrich and Optimise, what I call, in short, 'LEO'. True listening means listening to your customers - both internal and external. Your spouse, parents, friends, colleagues are your internal customers. Are you really listening to them? If you do not have good internal customer satisfaction, you cannot satisfy external customers. India has high quality talent.

It has the potential to become the innovation hub of the world but that will happen only if senior leaders and middle management listen and create an environment conducive to innovation. This applies in politics too. Had we listened to our citizens properly, we would have known that AAP would do very well in the Delhi elections. But no one was able to predict that because no one was listening properly.

The second element is enrichment. Irrespective of an individual's position - rich or poor, CEO or janitor, political leader or a grassroot-level worker - he/she needs to believe it is his/her job to make others' life better. Every employee should think that it is his/her job to make an impact in the organisation. We should all have the 'enrichment' mentality. Sadly that is not the case. Predominantly what we find is that people are self-centred.

The economic growth India experienced over the last two decades has made many among the younger generation money-minded rather than passion-centred. Successful people push their passion and try making a difference. At the end of the day, money will follow. Also, instead of blaming others for the current state of things, we should become change agents ourselves. You can make an impact in your own areas of capability in an organisation. Imagine the effect, if you multiply that change by a billion people. Even if one per cent of the Indian population has that mindset, it will have a huge impact.

Five Features of Optimising

The third element is optimising. Whatever you do, are you doing it perfectly? The mindset should not be to do something in a hurry to meet a deadline, but to ask ourselves if we are producing a perfect product. To achieve perfection, you need to do five things. First, you should recognise the price of failure. If you fail, your business and organisation will fail.

Tata Nano should have been a big success, but it failed for various reasons, including safety concerns. This has overshadowed Tata Motors' phenomenal success with respect to turning around Jaguar Land Rover. The second part is to do it right the first time. For instance, to turn Nano around is going to be 10 times more difficult now, as customers have had a poor first impression. So, organisational leaders have to ensure that whatever product a company makes, it should get it right the first time. The third point is to get into the finer details. Something may look good on the surface, but if you go into its details, you may see a lot of problems.

India has the potential to lead the world, but what is pulling it down is the mindset of corruption and lack of ethics. A quality mindset can bring about change

Fourth, one needs to develop a sense of productive paranoia. Constantly worrying about what else you could do to meet the competition, the opportunities you may be missing and your next move, is critical. If you are launching a product, you need to look at whether it is good enough. Think ahead of a product's launch about how the competition will react to it. Will it make a cheaper version of the product six months down the line? Former Apple boss Steve Jobs was phenomenal in that area. This paranoia will help organisations come up with products that the competition can never think of and by the time it reacts, these companies will be way ahead. That is the edge Indian companies should strive for. Sadly, very few businesses in India are doing this. Intelligent companies the world over make this worrying a part of their culture. Once they do so, they do not have to worry about revival. It will automatically come. Samsung is a good example of how an organisation has adopted this strategy and stayed ahead of the game.

The fifth element is instilling a passion of perfection in every member of the team. It is not just enough if the leader has the perfection mentality every minute of the day. Let's take the example of AAP again. Kejriwal, as a leader, may have the perfection mindset. But what if some of his colleagues in the party do something unethical after his party comes to power? The credibility of the party will take a beating. It is a party that has built itself on the platform of probity in public life. AAP's ability to become a national party depends on how Kejriwal effectively instills in every one of his party members mind the need to be perfect. Can this perfection mindset be achieved? My answer is yes. Take Aravind Eye Hospital. What it is doing is a benchmark for the rest of the world in the field of eye care. It is able to do what it does because the organisation it has developed is listening to customers - both internal and external, enriching the life of others and optimising the perfection model. Even advanced countries like the UK and the US have a lot to learn from Aravind Eye Hospital.

Quality Above All

India has the potential to lead the world, but what is pulling it down is the mindset of corruption and lack of ethics. A quality mindset can bring about change. Many Indian business leaders misconstrue quality as process quality. They are keen on getting the necessary certifications to tell the world that their organisation is quality driven. These certifications do not really help unless everyone in the company is quality-oriented every minute of the day. Does anyone in the world really care if Aravind Eye Hospital has a quality certification? You can never achieve the highest process or product quality unless you have a quality mindset culture within an organisation.

India, as a country, should think quality. Every Indian should strongly feel quality is his/her own business. If that happens, the country will be better governed, every product Indian companies produce and every service they offer will be exceptional and of global quality.

Subir Chowdhury is a leading quality expert and is ranked among the top 50 management thinkers in the world

As told to N. Madhavan

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